An anti-climax? Sure.
And the Gonzaga Bulldogs will gladly settle for a reprise every year.
Championships don’t have to be won in dramatic fashion to be satisfying, and it’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs any more content than they were Saturday night after coasting past Loyola Marymount 107-84 for their third West Coast Conference regular-season basketball title in the past five years.
Technically, the Zags could have cut down the nets before the game San Diego’s upset of Santa Clara on Friday night having clinched GU a share of the title.
Practically, they needed to erase what sting remained from Thursday’s upset loss to Pepperdine, which postponed the celebration for 48 hours.
“It’s such a good feeling,” said Bulldog forward Bakari Hendrix, who highlighted an almost charmed Senior Night with 32 points and left the court to the chant of “M-V-P!” - which he could well be by later this week.
“This is what you work your whole career for, and to be able to do it at home in front of great fans and to make up for a tough loss the other night makes it that much better.”
It also sets up an immediate rematch - the top-seeded Bulldogs (21-8) against LMU (7-19) in the opening round of the WCC tournament at 2 p.m. Saturday at Santa Clara. The winner of the championship game a week from Monday, earns the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAAs.
But Gonzaga coach Dan Monson couldn’t restrain himself from a little early campaigning.
“I’m not on the selection committee - I wish I was,” he said. “But I think this team deserves to be in the NCAA tournament no matter what happens. We play in a great conference and they’ve met all the challenges and criteria the NCAA asks you for. But our big thing this year is to control what you can control, and the one thing we know we can control is that we’ll go to the NCAA Tournament if we win three games at Santa Clara.”
On Saturday night, the Bulldogs con trolled everything the tempo, the boards and the emotions of 4,021 fans, at least until players and referees conspired to make it a 55-foul whistlefest.
The Zags jumped to a 10-point lead before the game was 5 minutes old and turned up the juice with a few electric plays a fast-break jam by Hendrix, a pretty dish by Matt Santangelo and especially a bull’s-eye 3-pointer by Carl Crider, seldom used in his GU career but a starter this night for his final home game.
“It’s all about doing your job when you’re called on - even if you’re not called on very often,” said Crider, who transferred from Eastern Washington three years ago “just to be able to play in a championship program.”
Crider didn’t stop with one 3. He had another to jump-start the Zags in the second half and a third in the final minute that allowed fans to cash in on a free-hamburger promotion.
Fellow senior Doug Griffin had some stellar moments, too, such as a snazzy steal and reverse layup. But the night truly belonged to Hendrix, who locked up the WCC scoring championship with a 10-for-16 effort from the floor and 12-for-13 shooting from the line.
“He’s been our MVP all year and he showed it tonight,” said Monson. “He’s been a good team guy, and now he deserves every individual award he can get. We wouldn’t be where we are without his sacrifices.”
Hendrix had 20 points in the first half as the Zags stormed to a 58-34 lead on 55 percent shooting - a welcome recovery coming off their worst back-to-back shooting efforts of the season. The offense sputtered a bit in the second half and guards Willie Allen and Haywood Eaddy shot the last-place Lions back within 11 points before a rebound basket by Hendrix started the rout again.
Gonzaga’s second outright regular-season championship (the first came in 1994) makes Monson the first rookie coach to accomplish the feat in the WCC.
“For me it’s gratifying because this team made a statement that they believed in a young staff,” he said. “We don’t play - all we do is try to direct them. And you can tell them whatever you want, but if they don’t believe in what you’re telling them and go out and execute that, then it’s not going to work.
“They deserve this championship.”
Gonzaga 107, Loyola Marymount 84
Loyola Marymount (7-19) - Eaddy 6-14 4-5 18, Allen 7-13 7-9 23, Cornell 0-1 6-6 6, Ammerman 3-11 0-0 9, Hotopp 2-3 4-5 8, Saucedo 0-2 0-0 0, Mashack 4-7 1-4 10, Knollmiller 0-0 0-0 0, Kainga 1-4 3-7 5, Kennedy 0-5 5-8 5, Perry 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 30-44 84.
Gonzaga (21-8) - Crider 3-4 0-0 9, Santangelo 6-13 5-5 19, Hendrix 10-16 12-13 32, Frahm 3-6 0-0 9, Griffin 4-7 1-1 9, Spink 1-1 0-0 2, Floyd 1-3 2-4 5, Nilson 2-5 1-1 5, Hall 0-4 3-4 3, Calvary 3-5 4-5 10, Dench 0-3 2-2 2, Leasure 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 34-71 30-35 107.
Halftime-Gonzaga 58, Loyola Marymount 34. 3-Point goals-Loyola Marymount 8-25 (Ammerman 3-9, Allen 2-4, Eaddy 2-5, Mashak 1-2, Saucedo 0-2, Kenndy 0-3), Gonzaga 9-29 (Crider 3-4, Frahm 3-6, Santangelo 2-6, Floyd 1-3, Hendrix 0-2, Griffin 0-1, Hall 0-1, Calvary 0-1, Dench 0-3, Leasure 0-2). Fouled out-Cornell, Kainga, Griffin. Rebounds-Loyola Marymount 46 (Hotopp 9), Gonzaga 43 (Hendrix 9). Assists-Loyola Marymount 10 (Eaddy 5), Gonzaga 18 (Santangelo 6). Total fouls-Loyola Marymount 25, Gonzaga 30. A-4,021.